Before we start, here are this weekend’s fixtures in full:
Saturday 13th January
Chelsea vs Leicester (15:00)
Crystal Palace vs Burnley (15:00)
Huddersfield vs West Ham (15:00)
Newcastle vs Swansea (15:00)
Watford vs Southampton (15:00)
West Brom vs Brighton (15:00)
Tottenham vs Everton (17:30)
Sunday 14th January
Bournemouth vs Arsenal (13:30)
Liverpool vs Man City (16:00)
Monday 15th January
Man Utd vs Stoke (20:00)
And breathe. Last weekend’s FA Cup third round action served as a welcome ‘winter break’ for us mentally spent fantasy managers, following a frenetic festive period in which four gameweek deadlines were crammed into nine days - one of which prefaced the first ‘double gameweek’ of the season. What an anticlimax of a DGW it transpired to be too, modest returns for the Tottenham midfield trio of Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen only marginally offsetting Harry Kane’s paltry three-point haul. Kane’s illness-blighted performances were a source of irritation for the 34% of ‘live teams’ who captained 2017’s record-breaking goalscorer in gameweek 22 and a downright disaster for the thousands upon thousands who handed him the triple captaincy, including overall FPL leader Bharat Dhody.
A blank for Spurs and West Ham in gameweek 21, the absence of heavy hitters such as Mohamed Salah and David Silva, and much-feared rotation materialising made this Christmas a tricky period to negotiate for most FPL managers, not helped by some appallingly inconvenient deadlines (who else was online late on New Year’s Eve, not in fact counting down the minutes to 2018 with their loved ones but sweating on the 1.15am price changes?) and the litre bottle of Bailey’s coursing through their veins.
Not since mid-November had FPL managers enjoyed a Friday night/Saturday morning away from their laptop screens, the FA Cup intermission being as welcome as an international break during a particularly fraught game of Football Manager. This being the month that Sky Sports News turns yellow, there will be some new – and not so new – faces to consider as we dust ourselves down ahead of gameweek 23.
The month’s most notable transfer activity so far has occurred on Merseyside. As Philippe Coutinho (still owned by 9.5% of FPL managers as we go to press) finally completed his transfer to Barcelona, Virgil van Dijk made his equally long-awaited move to Liverpool from Southampton. Priced at £5.4m in FPL, Van Dijk will walk straight into a defence that has conceded only four goals in 11 games at Anfield this season. Whilst the Reds have not been so watertight away from home, their run of fixtures after Sunday’s visit of Manchester City is eye-catching and last Friday’s winner in the Merseyside derby highlighted that Van Dijk is an attacking threat too – the Dutch centre-half has 20 league goals in just over 200 league appearances for Groningen, Celtic and the Saints.
Across Stanley Park, Cenk Tosun’s move to Everton from Beşiktas is worthy of mention – not least for owners of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who will almost certainly see the budget forward’s pitch time reduced following the arrival of the £27m Turkish striker. Priced only at £7.5m in FPL and spearheading an Everton side resurgent under Sam Allardyce, Tosun could well be the mid-price striking option we’ve all been crying out for this season. The 26-year-old Turkish international has four goals in six UEFA Champions League games this season, plus eight strikes in 16 league matches.
Departing Goodison Park for West London this week was Ross Barkley, who is yet to kick a ball in the Premier League this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer. Whether he will be anything other than peripheral at Chelsea for the rest of the campaign is debatable, but Antonio Conte has suggested Barkley will see first-team action in the near future and sees the England star as being able to play in several different positions across the middle. Priced at £7.3m, Barkley racked up five goals and 11 assists last season and is one to watch in the coming weeks. Or not, if you’ve been burned by this most Marmite of midfielders in the past.
Another midfielder moving for big money this month after a protracted transfer saga is Leicester City’s £22m recruit from Sporting Lisbon, Adrien Silva. The Portuguese international enters FPL at £6.0m, a seemingly fair price for the all-action midfielder who scored only four goals – and assisted twice – for Sporting in Liga NOS in 2016-17.
Though we’re mercifully past the congested Christmas fixture schedule, the threat of rotation still looms large. The excellent Ben Crellin’s guide to key dates over the next month or so highlights the relentless treadmill of matches hurtling the way of many Premier League sides – not least Chelsea, who will have to juggle league duties with a Carabao Cup semi-final, Champions League last 16 tie, and now an unwanted FA Cup third round replay against Norwich next Wednesday, which could add up to playing two games a week for the next month.
Also with a busy schedule over the coming weeks is Manchester City, which brings us neatly on to the 11.7 million pound question: with Gabriel Jesus out of action until at least early February, is it now time to consider bringing Sergio Agüero back into our FPL teams (if you haven’t already)?
On paper, it’s a no-brainer. A goal in City’s last league fixture against Watford, a brace in their FA Cup win over Burnley and the winner off the bench in Tuesday’s 2-1 League Cup semi-final first leg victory over Bristol City made it four goals in a week for the Argentine striker, who has form to go with City’s attractive forthcoming fixtures (even more so after Sunday’s clash with Liverpool is out of the way). Being the only fit senior striker on City’s books means Agüero is looking at an extended run in Pep Guardiola’s side – a lack of which this season has previously deterred FPL managers from shelling out for his not inconsiderable purchase price, particularly with cheaper City attacking assets who were less prone to rotation freely available. Following Jesus’ injury, Agüero is now owned by a season-high 22.5% of all FPL managers – and the stats certainly highlight just how deadly “Kun” can be when game time is not shared between him and his Brazilian teammate.
Of players classed as forwards in FPL this season, only Olivier Giroud and Charlie Austin have better points-per-90-minute ratios than Agüero – neither of whom have more than 600 league minutes to their name. Agüero’s mean return of 7.51 points per 90 minutes dwarfs that of any other forward of note, including Jesus (6.88), Kane (6.81), Roberto Firmino (6.52) and Alvaro Morata (6.07).
A source of concern – certainly when Jesus is fit and available – is whether Agüero will be given a full 90 minutes whenever he does start; the Argentine has lasted the duration in only eight of City’s 22 league games so far this campaign. The graph below though illustrates just how potent Agüero can be, even when not afforded the whole of a game:
*Coutinho removed from the above two graphics.
Despite nine of Agüero’s 17 Premier League appearances this season being cut short, his average points per appearance is still greater than fellow heavy hitters such as Kane, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Of the ten players originally priced up at £10.0m or above, only De Bruyne and Kane offer more points per million than Agüero’s 9.49 – the City number 10 providing better value for money than the likes of Hazard, Morata and Romelu Lukaku.
With City so far ahead in the Premier League though, might Guardiola save his only fit forward for action on the other three fronts in which they are competing? The potential arrival of Alexis Sanchez this month would also perhaps impact on Agüero’s pitch time, though the above charts illustrate that failing to complete 90 minutes is no hindrance to the Argentine’s ability to rack up the points.
Like a canny snooker player thinking two or three shots ahead, it pays for FPL managers to keep an eye on fixtures in the short and medium term when considering which players to ship in and out.
Those who loaded up on West Ham assets prior to the double gameweek will be delighted to see that the Hammers feature positively in all three of the tables above, their next five fixtures in particular (hud, BOU, CRY, bri, WAT) suggesting that the likes of Arthur Masuaku, Angelo Ogbonna and Marko Arnautovic needn’t necessarily be jettisoned straight away.
Arsenal’s fixtures are also alluring over the next 10 gameweeks, but the average FDR ratings of Newcastle, West Brom and Swansea suggest that these three clubs face a difficult few months ahead.
It is interesting to note how sharply Chelsea’s fixtures turn after their next five relatively straightforward games, the Blues subsequently facing away trips to Man Utd, Man City and Burnley before entertaining Spurs – though of course FA Cup involvement may lead to some of those games being rearranged.
And lastly, a reminder that the second of your two wildcards can now be activated. You know you want to.